It is important to understand that we are always learning and adapting. One of the main problems for people who get stuck in life is that they no longer change how or what they are learning and adapting to. People get the idea that they should change for no reason and fall into the same habits (and vices) they have always indulged.
This is important because the habits of thought and action you take can become self reinforcing in the way they train your body and mind to continue down the same path. In essence, you become better at what you practice (what you put energy into grows). If you are not conscious of what you are putting energy into or practicing, you might be reinforcing habits and behaviors that will destroy your life.
There is a great video on this subject made by Alex Becker. In the video (below) he talks about how any behavior you repeat becomes self reinforcing. When someone does something that seems fun or interesting they are training their body to seek out that activity or stimulus. Since these "positive" stimuli release dopamine, you literally become chemically addicted to them.
As your body produces dopamine in response to "enjoyable" activities (like scrolling on Instagram) you optimize your nervous system to seek out opportunities to indulge in this behavior. This is one of the reasons people reach for their phones 1st thing in the morning to start scrolling their feed!
If you haven't watched the video I suggest you do. Alex starts off talking about this because he recently got really deep into studying artificial intelligence. He was studying how Humans learn and how our current AI systems are modeled after the human brain. Basically, from a young age we are all absorbing our surroundings and writing the mental "programs" in our head that allow us to function. After writing all of our programs, at some point we are pretty much set with our habits and thinking patterns.
While the main part of these patterns is set, we still continually update and refine these mental "programs" with the new information we are exposed to every day. Alex talks about the main way that our minds are programmed. Basically, the habits of thinking and action we habitually engage in cause a movement in the levels of dopamine in the blood (up or down). Alex breaks these down into 4 categories: positive and strong positive as well as negative and strong negative.
A strong positive stimulus would be something like doing a line of cocaine or having sex. A strong negative stimulus would be something like putting your hand on a hot stove or getting punched in the face. These are the obvious responses our bodies have and they are pretty much unavoidable.
The problem comes in with the more moderate positive and negative responses your body learns from. A moderate positive event would be something like completing a work task on time. A moderate negative event would be something like not completing the task on time and feeling a small twinge of remorse.
The problem comes in when something that is actually bad for you starts getting mistaken for something that is good for you. An example would be checking your social media and getting a small hit of dopamine from seeing someone like one of your photos or starts following your account. Even though this event doesn't advance your goals or lead to anything positive in your life, it registers as a moderately positive event.
Over time these positive events start to displace the other moderate positive events you might have gotten from something like completing your work or having a pleasant conversation with another person in real life. Instead of doing these things your mental "programs" start to be re-written to optimize for the positive hit of dopamine you are getting from your most frequent "positive" actions (in this case checking your social media).
When your brain becomes optimized for these types of "false positive" events, you are essentially training yourself to do things that will destroy your life.
One of the reasons that distractions like social media are so appealing is that they shield us from negative thoughts and emotions. By constantly distracting yourself with immersive content and stimulation, you can avoid thinking about anything that causes you to feel pain, fear or anxiety.
While temporary pain relief can be useful, the type of chronic sedation people experience with drugs, alcohol or addictive social media use can keep you from understanding yourself or your life on a deeper level. The problem with this is that it becomes nearly impossible to make decisions and identify priorities if you cannot access these deeper levels of awareness about yourself and your life.
Numbing yourself from emotional pain robs you of the ability to accurately reflect on yourself and your life. How you are truly feeling will be masked by the haze of distraction all types of vices provide.
In this case vices can include anything from hard drugs to behavioral addictions including everything from sex to scrolling your facebook feed. Whatever you are using to distract yourself is what is preventing you from feeling the pain you must feel to achieve higher levels of awareness.
"If you talk to Dr. David Buss, when I asked him, do adults change? He said yeah, kind of. I said why, he said that after 25 it becomes very hard to teach an old dog new tricks".
he said, I have good news for you Tai, adults learn through massive trauma. So you will learn but you have to let massive trauma into your life. No pain no gain. You have to let the pain into your life.
"If you're overweight you have to face it and not allow distraction to lead you away from the truth of your pain."
"We try to excuse away pain. We say oh there was a reason I was in that relationship, there was a reason this or that happened. You only learn as an adult unfortunately though experience massive pain and trauma."
You're 270 pounds and you didn't exercise, welcome to the gym. And that first year is going to be hell but that pain hopefully will reprogram your brain that every time you go to eat that nasty thing you go wait, I don't want to go through that pain again.
So I think one of the myths of society is that we wont let pain in, we just excuse it all away, like oh that was meant to happen, just wasted 20 years in a bad marriage or the wrong career, most people will tell you its ok and it was meant to be.
You need someone there to say hey dude, you fucked up you waisted 20 years of your life. You need someone there to tell you that you fucked up. You need to go cry and let that pain in.
Grinding and hustling is not what you optimize for, you optimize for pain"
In a medium article titles "I did a 24 Hour Dopamine Fast and This is What Happened", the author discuses the changes he experienced in himself after minimizing all distractions and stimulants from his life for 24 hours. In this case stimulants means anything from hardcore stimulants like caffeine to behaviors like consuming blog posts or checking your phone.
“We have so much time in a day to do amazing things and make real progress. If only we didn’t numb, distract and choke ourselves by the weapons of mass distractions. We are addicted to fake pleasures that take our focus away from the things we really desire.” - Jari Roomer
For 24 hours, I had to follow these strict rules:
The only things I practically could do were:
What is interesting about the post is that the author mentions how he felt more clear than he had ever felt before in his life. He even gained new insights about his business during this short break from dopamine producing substances and behaviors.
“What this dopamine fast does is give you the necessary space to reflect, plan, strategize and think deeply. It creates clarity and should be done by anyone who is unhappy, overwhelmed, stressed or stuck in life. Heck, it should be done by anyone just to see what comes up! This day will shine a light on your next steps and the things that are off in your life”. - Jari Roomer
The important part of the above quote is the last sentence. He mentions that dopamine fasting will provide your next steps and shine a light on any issues you are having in your life.
This seems so fitting as the majority of people I talk to seem to have a vague sense that they are not sure about their direction and are not completely content with their lives. Could it be that all the distractions we are allowing in our lives are destroying our ability to think clearly.
The most interesting thing about the author's experience is that a "dopamine fast", for most people, is going to force them to face some of the pain they have been avoiding. A dopamine fast is essentially a way that you can identify if you have any pain or trauma you have ben avoiding.
In the below video Sam Oven's talks about this same phenomena discussed in the Dopamine Fast article. Sam talks about how self discipline and focus is developed by weaning yourself off all types of distraction and instant gratification. He even goes as far as saying that he specifically developed the ability to tolerate massive amounts of pain when it comes to denying himself any types of instant gratification.
"First, if you want to get self discipline, you need to practice the inverse of instant gratification. So weaning yourself off social media and all that crap is great, and then getting yourself hooked on delayed gratification is great. That's how you start to develop steel-like discipline."
"Number two is to love pain. So a lot of people try to avoid pain, right? And I mean we should avoid like breaking a leg. That's not fun and that's not something you should do for fun, but I'm talking about a different type of pain.
Most people try to avoid this type of pain, which is if they're training hard, or like physical exertion, or going to the limit with their hearts racing very fast, and their muscles are sore and tired, and they're all sweaty. But people avoid that sort of physical pain.
They also avoid going to the dark places, so thinking about the things that are hard to think about, the places they don't want to go in their mind, or confronting difficulties at work, or working on a big project that's gnarly and you're putting it off. You've got to learn to love this stuff and eat it. And every day, you need to practice taking yourself to the dark places.
Just go into the gnarliest little alleys in your mind and then play around in there and be like, "This is pretty painful, but you know what, I like it." And confront difficulties. If there's a difficulty, confront it head on. And when you feel your body kind of reacting to it, and it's getting a bit emotional, you're just feeling it and you're like, "This is good", And then, feel the pain and love it.
I've practiced working so hard that when I get tired during the day ... You know, I get worn out tired and everything, but then it's really weird. When I get to that real exhausted, tired, pain zone, it's like that's when I find another level and I get even better. And it's because I've just practiced so much working hard that I can just keep going and I actually kind of enjoy it there.
It's kind of like a nice ... It's a nice place where I feel comfortable. You've got to learn to love this pain because all successful people have massive pain tolerances, and people don't understand how they can tolerate it. But the truth is, is they actually like it. In the absence of the pain, they don't want that.
When you are trying to develop your willpower and concentration you are going to experience some of the symptoms of lowered levels of dopamine. This is because you are denying yourself of your normal sources of stimulation.
14 Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms - (UniversityHealthNews)
This can cause real physiological and emotional pain. Of course this wont be the type of acute pain you would get from and injury but it is pain non the less. The important part of this process is to learn to enjoy this low level "pain".
Really you need to change your understanding of pain in general. The understanding most people have of pain is incorrect. Pain is simply a feedback mechanism the body uses. It is one of many mechanisms that needs to be used in conjunction with the body's other senses.
We can also use the feedback our bodies give us in the form of pain to make decisions about the types of behaviors we want to engage in. For example it makes sense to avoid the acute physical pain that accompanies an injury. This type of pain lets us know that something is seriously wrong and dneeds to be fixed right away.
Lower levels of psychological or physiological pain that accompany withdrawal from a normal stimulus can be very good. These types of pain can signal that we are pushing through normal boundaries of habitual behavior.
Hardcore stimulants, opioids, alcohol, distractions and drugs of all types spike dopamine. These spikes exceed the normal dopamine release your body uses to reward positive behaviors. This is why drugs and distractions seem difficult to avoid. The draw to engage in these behaviors is far more rewarding then nearly any other day-today activities.
In many instances, it is easier to get rid of one addiction by eliminating addictive behaviors in all areas of your life. Eliminating these unnaturally high dopamine spikes allows your body to optimize for the behaviors that increase dopamine to a more normal peak. These types of behaviors include things like finishing a task on time, completing a difficult work project or feeling a sense of connection with another person.
Comparing these normal dopamine increasing activities to the average addictive behavior makes it easier to understand why you should eliminate all addictive behaviors that have become a regular part of your routine. There is simply no way that the rewards you get from completing a task or talking to someone can compete with drugs and modern forms of entertainment.
If you habitually get your highest levels of satisfaction from these highly addictive activities, you will loose the natural motivation you have to seek out the "normal" rewards a balanced and fulfilling life offers. Keep in mind, this does not include behaviors you engage in on an infrequent basis. It's the habitual sources of stimulation that cause problems.
When you eliminate the habitual activities that drastically raise your dopamine levels two things happen.
1) Your body adjusts to your new lower dopamine "peaks" by increasing it's sensitivity to the dopamine you do produce. This means you will experience more please from the simpler, less stimulating day-to-day activities.
2) You will be able to think more clearly and will have more creativity. When your brain is not constantly searching for strong hits of dopamine it is far more calm. This calmness or stillness of mind is exactly the environment needed to tap into higher levels of creativity and insight.
One of the most deeply disturbing aspects of life is the thought that you do not have a purpose and your life is without meaning. At some point in life most people experience this thought and it's resultant emotional pain.
Many people who live with a sense of purposelessness become traumatized by allowing themselves to live in this state over an extended period of time. When a person feels a need for purpose but does not think that they have one it causes cognitive dissonance.
Living with cognitive dissonance over and extended period of time cause trauma. This means that many people who are living seemingly ordinary live are experiencing emotional trauma by accepting a lack of purpose and direction in their lives.
For many people who have experience chronic abuse or extreme mental or physical pain, the trauma caused by purposelessness would be much easier then what they currently live with. The point is, most people have some emotional pain or trauma.
This emotional pain can subconsciously guid or behaviors and hijack our motivations and desires. Therefore dealing with any underlying emotional pain and trauma is a necessary step to living your highest and best life. The #1 obstacle to dealing with your emotional pain is distraction.
“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” Victor Frankl
"All of the vices are interconnected, at the root of all vices you are trying to run away from yourself or you are trying to run away from some trauma. You are trying to not deal with yourself and your trying to not heal because when you are left alone with yourself what is there? There is just the mond, just the body. You have got to overcome. You have got to deal with what the problem is.
So instead of dealing with what the problem is, what do most people do? They drink a bear, smoke a cigarette, drink a coffee, turn on the TV, watch the news, get on social media. All of these things give you a quick hit of dopamine and they allow you to forget whatever the problem is, and all of us are dealing with some form of pain or trauma or whatever and its important that we actually deal with that, rather then trying to forget it, and that is what all vices are.
Its all a way to forget so that we don't have to deal with our own problems, but if you want to heal, if you want to cure all the vices you have to deal with the root cause of the problem and the root cause is trauma. And that is what eliminating vices does, it forces you to face the pain and experience the trauma, it forces you to heal.
So all the vices are the same, they are a way to forget who you are and forget about your problems. You have to go through it, you have to conquer yourself. When you conquer yourself you have no need for the vices. But we don't want to forget, we want to go through the withdrawal and kill all the pain.
You have to get through the withdrawal by forcing yourself to deal with whatever trauma you are facing, and this is like going into war against your fucking self and conquering. It's about conquering your inner fucking demons." - Nick Kelley
The learning process you must go through while eliminating distraction will take time. You cannot be in a rush to eliminate all the vices from your life. While there might be some people that can eliminate all bad habits immediately, most people will benefit from continued work in this area of their life.
The upside is that you will start seeing the benefits of eliminating distraction almost immediately. Each distraction you eliminate will allow you to accomplish more and gain a more realistic view of yourself and your life.
If you still need motivation to start eliminating distractions I recommend you read the quote below on the learning process and commit it to memory.
"This way is hard and complicated, but for every person who finds the need for change and improvement it's within the limits of practical possibility bearing in mind that several things must be clearly understood to make the process (the acquisition of a new set of responses) not too difficult. It must be fully realized from the start that the learning process is irregular and consists of steps, and that there will be down as well as ups. This applies even to a matter as simple as learning a poem by heart. A man may learn a poem one day, remember almost nothing of it the next. A few days later, and without any further study, he may suddenly know it perfectly. Even if he puts the poem entirely out of his mind for several months, he will find that a brief rehearsal will bring it back completely. We must not become discouraged therefore, if we find we have slipped back to the original condition at any time; these regressions will become rarer and return to the improved condition easier as the learning process continues."